A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

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What is the theme of "A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns?

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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While the overriding theme is Love in Robert Burns's "A Red, Red Rose," there is another theme suggested even in the title: Time.

A rose that is very red is at its fullest and will shortly die. The first two lines suggest the temporal nature of love:

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June: 

However, Burns makes a distinction in his verses: When the "Luve" is a person in this poem, the life is limited, just as is that of a rose; however, whenever "Luve" is mentioned relative to emotions, there are images in the poem suggesting that time is unable to affect the life of the love:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my Dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
O I will luve thee still, my Dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

Because of this distinction in the meaning of the speaker's declaration of his love, the emotion and life of this love is afforded more depth and intensity. And, thus, the last lines suggest both the temporality and the eternity of love. Clearly, Robert Burns's poem strives to find a compromise between the temporary and the eternal nature of love.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The theme of this poem is love. The poet compares his lover to a red, red rose. A red, red rose is one in full bloom. 

The poet tells his lover she is beautiful: "fair art thou."

He then says he will remain loyal to her forever. He repeats twice that he will love her until " the seas gang dry." This means he will love her until the seas dry up. He also says he will love her until the rocks of the earth melt, and until time itself runs out. In the last stanza he is saying goodbye to her before they separate, but says he will love her through all eternity.

Thus, the theme of this poem is about more than love: it is about a love that will never die. But, in fact, it is about a poet saying his love will never die. The exaggerated metaphors he uses, such as loving her until the seas dry up, contrast with her being a rose in fullest bloom. Will he love her as much, the poem asks, when her bloom has faded, as it soon will, and she is no longer beautiful? So the poet makes great claims about undying love but by using so much exaggeration, the poem also raises questions about whether the poet's love really will last or whether he just thinks it will. 

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